DRINKING MOJITO’S AND DANCING SALSA UNTIL YOUR FEET HURT – Lessons learned in Trinidad, Cuba
You’re right, it’s not your feet that will hurt from drinking one (or two, or three…) too many of those perfect mojito’s, it’s your head…
But who cares? You’re in Trinidad!
Dear old Trinidad… You’re like everything that’s authentic about Cuba gathered together in one single place. I rarely visit the same place twice, but you’ve been on my list ever since I left more than 8 years ago. I want to come back. I NEED to come back. But at the same time I’m scared. Afraid to find you’ve changed. I sure know I have…
It’s you who changed me, or at least put the change in motion, and I don’t even think I realized it at the time of my visit. It was my first trip outside of Europe, I had just finished college and was pretty clueless as to what was going on in the world. Of course I read the paper and watched the news but I had no idea about the real issues and the emotions that came with the stories. I didn’t even think about the people behind the images or the lives beyond those clichés.
At that time, I wanted to see the world because I wanted to see the world. It was as simple as that. I didn’t think about my impact on the destinations or the people, and I only rarely thought about their impact on me. I knew it did something to me, but I couldn’t really point out what it was and to be honest I hardly ever really took the time to think about it.
I still thought travel was about places. About seeing things and ticking destinations off your bucket list – even though nobody called it a bucket list yet. It was only partially about the journey and it was definitely not about the people. I know I was unconsciously intrigued and inspired by them but by no means did I realize the importance they’d get in my future travels. Meeting people was about having fun and getting a glimpse of the unknown. About having exciting stories to tell about those great nights out with strangers or maybe ending up at an unknown beach or bar I never would have found out about otherwise. It was about going off the beaten path before that word was even invented. And that was it. That was all travel was about.
I didn’t even expect half of the emotions that journey and those people would give me or the life lessons I’d learn from them later on through my travels.
I’ve said it over and over again so it’s probably getting boring, but I’ll take the risk and say it again anyway: if you go to Trinidad, ditch the guidebook and go get lost! Let the music that’s coming from around every corner guide you to places you’d imagined only existed in one of those old Havana Club commercials as you stroll through the cobbled streets. The main attraction is the city itself, with its squares and buildings that witness a colorful past. The bright blues, greens and yellows have gone pale and the new layer of paint they put on every couple of years for Revolution Day doesn’t stop the previous layers from peeling off. The rusty old-timers complete the picture marvelously. The beauty and sadness of this long gone glory will hit you with every step you take.
Look at the people dancing on the corner of pretty much every street. Sit down on a terrace for a cocktail and some live music. Go ahead and pay the old man with the chicken for a picture if you want, even if everybody took that exact same picture before. Who cares? You’re in Trinidad! At night, drink cheap rum from the peso store with the locals on the stairs of Plaza Mayor. Go feel the intensity of trova music at the Casa de la Trova and shake your booty at the Casa de la Musica or just outside on one of the squares. Take salsa lessons! If you’re not going to do it here, where else are you gonna do it? And if you don’t care about salsa, do it anyway. You’ll be happy you did when you’ll be dancing the night away with the locals afterwards.
Take a step back and look further than what’s obvious. Observe the people and notice the contradictions. These people live in tiny houses, drive a 37 year old car – if they’re lucky – and hardly possess anything, but their smiles bring the city to life. They have no access to many basic products and services we just get from the grocery store but they’ll welcome you into their homes and into their lives with open arms.
They don’t even have half the liberties we have but they are singing and dancing in the street.
Dear old Trinidad… I’m sure I didn’t realize it at the time, and maybe I’m only fully realizing the exact scale right now as I’m writing down this story, but I’ve learned so much from you. You showed me the beauty and inestimable value of human interactions. You were the first to not only teach me but to actually make me see with my own eyes that happiness doesn’t have to be determined by freedom, political situations or possessions. It’s a matter of attitude, getting the most out of what you have and enjoying life no matter what. It’s not about ‘having it all’ but about realizing what ‘being rich’ really means.
For the past couple of years, this is what I’ve tried to focus on in my travels. This is what I want to bring home with me. It’s nice to have thousands of pictures, souvenirs and a world map on the wall with 45 been-there-done-that pins on it, but it’s the human adventures I will always remember first. You made me realize this, you showed me the kind of traveler I want to be, and for that I want to thank you.
I don’t know if I’ll ever come back. Part of me wants to return. To that old you. To that old me. But another part of me knows I probably never will. The memory of how we were is perfect as it is.
I don’t need to rewrite our story, I know it would sound exactly the same.